Alfred Enoch and Joel Samuels star as psychologically damaged brothers in the UK premiere of Brendon Cowell’s play. Described as “a dark Australian comedy with extra BBQ sauce”, the themes of identity (national and personal) as well as media saturation and power dynamics, are packaged in a blatantly provocative premise. Danny and Lyle are two 20-somethings who were once abandoned by their mother in a chicken coop.
Their resulting trauma and agoraphobia is readily apparent, exacerbated by the involvement in their lives of TV presenter femme fatale Pru. She appears to take both a personal as well as morbidly exploitative interest in their inability to assimilate back into society, and is played with sinuous aplomb by Josie Taylor. Enoch and Samuels fare less successfully, alternating between swaggering machismo, annoying hysteria and sibling hostility. Their clucking, flapping chicken impressions (of which there are far too many) invoke unintentional hilarity more than pathos, although credit should be given to the actors for trying to make the most out of the forced dialogue that occasionally assumes a bizarre staccato-like cadence.
Whilst the premise is interesting, the play never quite decides nor commits fully to whether it wants to assume the form of an urbane, razor-sharp commentary on the ruthlessness of modern society and the hideous, destructive nature of reality television and invasions of privacy; or whether it wants to act as a study and metaphor of the Australian dream; or present an intelligent rumination on the traumatic effects of neglect and abuse. Robert Shaw’s direction is capable, and the performers are committed – but all this is not enough to redeem a terrible script. Quasi-poetic lines – such as “the suicidal struggle between cigarettes and cold vaginas”- uttered in plaintive, embarrassing seriousness, make little sense and do little to enlighten or develop. The result is a frenetic, unsatisfying headless chicken of a production that leaves the audience as dissatisfied and confused as its troubled protagonists.
Happy New is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 25 February. For more information and tickets, see the Old Red Lion Theatre website.